Choral Music: Healing People, Saving Lives, Making a Difference

André de Quadros

Choral musicians claim the immense power of choral singing to transform individual lives and communities. This is because:

  • we sing

But, it’s also because of

  • what we sing
  • where we sing
  • who is singing

and many other reasons.
The question that I pose is this:

Are we, as choral musicians, doing enough for ALL PEOPLE?

Are we doing enough to engage all people, not only as audiences, but as choral participants? By all people, I refer to people in poverty, in conflict, in hospitals, in prisons, in war zones, in psychiatric institutions, and so on.

I maintain that choral music is not simply good, as we like to say, but it CAN be good, strong, inclusive, healthy, humane, compassionate, empowering. It can also be elitist, exclusive, selfish, disempowering. Indeed, we have yet to fully explore the multi-faceted power of choral music in diverse settings.

To enquire into ways in which choral music can be a force for healing, social change, and personal transformation, my session will look at the forgotten world, those whom choral educators and conductors have excluded, neglected, or forgotten. There are many social issues that we might give more attention to, and my presentation deals with only two of them, incarceration in American prisons, and the conflicted environment of Israel and the Arab world. In the former, I will discuss and interrogate the Empowering Song approach, which my colleagues and I have utilized as an alternative to conventional choral and music education approaches. In the latter, I will narrate various aspects of the Community Heartsong Project. Originally conceived as a project to bring Arab and Israeli choirs and conductors together, it has progressed to include work specifically on community choral development in the Palestinian West Bank.

On February 9, I will conduct a new choir, the Common Ground Voices in a concert for the King and Queen of Sweden, at the Eric Ericson International Choral Centre. This unique choir consists of Arabs, Israelis, and Swedes. Additionally, on February 6, I will lead a workshop for choral conductors and music educators interested in working principally with asylum seekers. Freshly returned to the United States for ACDA, I expect to report on the short-term outcomes of this project. My presentation will also draw on my experience as artistic director of the new conducting institute at the Eric Ericson International Choral Centre.

Thus, my focus will be the power of transformation for people in prisons, in conflict situations, and in poverty. The purpose of this presentation is twofold. First, there is much to be gained from understanding what processes and procedures have happened in some of these projects. Secondly, the presentation will discuss strategies, problems, and repertoire for those who may interested in pursuing this kind of work in their own communities.

André de Quadros, conductor, scholar, music educator, and human rights activist, has conducted and undertaken research in over forty countries and is a professor of music at Boston University, where he also holds positions in African, Asian, and Muslim studies, and the Prison Education Program. He is the music director and conductor of the internationally acclaimed Manado State University Choir, and two new international project choirs, VOICES 21C and Common Ground Voices. He is artistic director of four international projects: a conducting program at the Eric Ericson International Choral Centre – CONDUCTING 21C: Musical Leadership for a New Century; the London International Music Festival, Aswatuna – Arab Choral Festival and the Bali International Festival in Indonesia. For the last four years he has co-led choral programs in two Boston prisons. Since 2008, he has partnered in projects with Palestinian and Israeli choral musicians in Israel, Jerusalem and Galilee, and in the Arab world.